QCOSTARICA – Costa Rica’s Ombudswoman, Catalina Crespo, denounced that the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados (AyA) – the national water uitlity – is threatening citizens to sign payment agreements.
The condemnation was put in writing by Crespo in a letter sent to President Carlos Alvarado on November 27. In addition, she gave him 5 days to respond.
The Ombudswoman asked Alvarado for a “direct intervention on this problem”, the same demand made by legislators of Public Income and Expenditure Commission, who are asking for an “urgent intervention” by the Presidency.
“The Ombudsman’s Office considers it reprehensible that during the pandemic situation and the economic impact of thousands of homes, the AyA, under threats of cutting service, promoted the signing of payment arrangements, without regard to the economic effects that are caused families with it, ” says the letter.
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The payment arrangements were activated as a solution to the crisis that AyA itself caused by errors in billing and by alleged illegal practices against consumers, which would have altered the amounts billed.
The Defensoria de los Habitantes (Ombudsman’s Office) is asking President Alvarado for a report detailing the number of payment arrangements that have been signed, the criteria that were used to reach these arrangements, and whether the clients were consulted for information on the social conditions of the families who have signed them.
The Regulatory Authority for Public Services (Aresep) had already warned that the payment adjustments made by AyA for disproportionate bills are being made “without explanation.”
In a press release shared by AyA, it was reported that 19,500 payment arrangements have been formalized since October and 14,750 service reconnections have been made. In addition, they indicated that they are made under “special conditions to all users who have been negatively impacted by the pandemic.”
The AyA, not the Governmnet, has yet to responded to the matter.
In the first months of the pandemic, the water utility stopped water meter reading due the pandemic, billing conusmers based on the average consumption of the last 12 months.
In April/May, meter reading resumed and many customers saw their water bill three to ten times normal. the utililty alleging increased consumption.
Thousands filed complaints to the AyA. Some had their bills reduced, but many more faced paying the billed amount or risk having service cut.